A Solitaire Song

“Actually, call me back on this number XXX-XXX-XXXX now!” – She said, in the calm yet stabbing tone ever familiar to a child being scolded by a mother in a grocery store.

I hung up the phone and obliged.

“How dare you! My husband accused me of having an affair, and I had to sleep on the couch because of you!”

I, on the other end of the telephone, wondered how asking about a school trip got me here.

I guess if my name were Yunior, that story – a story of poor admin, oblivion, Greece, and marital issues deeper than a tour agent calling about your upcoming trip –would have ended up in the rough drafts of Junot Díaz “This is How You Lose Her.”

Original_cover_of_This_is_How_You_Lose_Her.jpg

Junot Díaz
This is How You Lose Her
Riverhead Books, New York
2012

Disclaimer – I love (the idea of) love

I was first introduced to Junot Díaz’s engrossing story-telling abilities in his Pulitzer Prize winning “The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.”  The opening paragraph of this book had me. I should have known that I would be captivated from the jump, that I would have wanted to cancel all plans of being social –  Junot Díaz knows how to do this writing thing, shem.

The book is a collection of short stories about love and all that comes with it – lost love, infidelity, dying love, unrequited love, get-your-coins-in-the-name-of-love love – but there is more than just love that threads the stories together. Junot Díaz once said that men are not good at writing from the perspective of women. And in all but one of the stories written from the man’s perspective, I found reading the book very zeitgeist-y. Reading the book at the tail end of my Summer holidays (insert smirk), Valentine’s day, between social media’s “men are Trash” parade, and beginning the book the day after we were introduced to “Hurt Bae,” Yunior, a character full of flavor, was the perfect sometimes guide (no spoiler alert), sometimes protagonist, throughout the book.

The prose in these short stories allowed me to feel the gamut of emotions one expects to feel for “love.” I had several neck-contorted, eyes slightly squinted, mouth partly ajar “the audacity” moments, like while reading “Nilda.” Rafa’s stories had my stomach clenched, hoping for the best, grinning when I should be laughing, waiting for the inevitable. “Otravida, Otravez” and the oh so familiar story of another time and another life, and yet I am going through with this nonetheless. And besides making me want to break out in an All-4-One song, “The Sun, the Moon, the Stars” beautifully told the story of the process of accepting that things are over – even when you do not want them to be.

But this isn’t a sob story about romance; I would not dare put it in the same category with Nicholas Spark. Junot Diaz’s stories are robust – there is wit and an ever so attractive cheekiness. I was not whisked away to a mystical land, there was stench and real pain alongside the excitement of stolen lust. There was a lot of truth.

The stories were captivating in isolation, and the last few pages of the last story “The cheater’s guide to love” made me feel as if I were hoodwinked, in a Morgan Freeman at the end of Lucky Number Slevin laugh at the brilliance kind of way. It made me re-read the first page, as I did when I read “The Outsiders” for the first time. I wanted to read it again. I wanted to pick up the phone and call him to tell him to read the book.

This time, knowing why I was on the other end of the phone call.

Eat, Dance, Discover

I’ve been going through a quarter life crisis since I graduated from college in 2011. This is not because I feel inadequate; but rather I feel I have numerous skills, talents and passions which I am struggling to piece together. I was fed the dream that I can have it all, and I would be damned if I don’t.

On Christmas Eve, 2011, as I sat for a quiet dinner with a good friend who possess a lot of wisdom, we talked about future goals and ate some good pizza – the perfect recipe for all great life prophecy declarations – I professed

By 30, I want to be GREAT

In my journey to self fulfillment I had a plan, which I have semi been on track for. I wanted to live and work in The USA, Southern Africa, and Brazil for a year, in each, to better define what it is I seek. I’ve checked living and working off in two of the countries, and as I type this I sit in a room in Brazil as I am 17 days away from completing my 3 months of being here. Not to shabby Baby Phoofs

I chose these three countries because they are familiar and have defined who I am in various ways. I thought to live in each to draw from my past experiences to see what it is I want to be surrounded by and how much of it is dependent on the physical place.

These past three years have been my semi own version of Eat, Pray, Love without the intention of it being

ImageEat, Pray, Love
Elizabeth Gilbert
2006

I sought to buy this book while on vacation here in Brazil. Since I was on no ones time but my own I wanted to gain some insight from a person in a somewhat similar position. I was made aware of this story because of the movie; however I have not watched the film. So I decided to read it.

I was salivating at Elizabeth’s endless supply of good food, except for the octopus she ate in Tuscany. Through reading her Italian travels, I really wished I was a foodie, and I honestly think in reading I have become so a little bit – or rather I have a deeper appreciation for a well prepared meal.

However, I really connected to her time in India the most. To make it clear, I am NOT a yoga enthuse, and the idea of spending a week, let alone 3 months, in an Ashram sounds like torture to me. I did relate to her finding balance through spirituality, and I really enjoyed her exchanges with Richard from Texas.

Elizabeth’s time in Bali gave me another place to put on my potential honeymoon destinations list, and piqued my interest in natural remedies – my drinking of Chlorophyll may have to do with this too, although I am sad that I have yet to turn into a Quarter Life Crisis Mutant Ninja Turtle.

Admittedly, I was enthralled by Elizabeth’s memoirs more than I had anticipated. I thought it was going to be a cheese romantic story, as the movie led me to believe – or more accurately, my thoughts on the movie pre watching it. As I work towards finding my own balance, the book posed some questions that forced me to sit and reflect and write it out.

I also thought, If I had the resources and ability, what would my Eat, Pray, Love be? As much as these past three years have been somewhat similar, I came up with a new itinerary called:

Eat, Dance, Discover

EAT
Where: Colombia

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Why: I have heard great things about the country from people who have traveled there. I feel my life travels will be incomplete without a trip to Cartagena and Medillin. Colombia’s political situation fascinates me, and I will spend my time learning and reading about its political history to present day. I also love the Spanish language, and I find the Colombian accent to be one of the prettiest, so why not. For the Eat part of my journey: I love Colombian food, so what better reason to learn how to cook than to go to Colombia to eat and cook some of my favorite dishes?

Dance
Where: Cuba

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Why: I LOVE TO DANCE, zero questions asked “to dance” is my favorite verb to do. It involves two of my favorite things, music and movement; how can you not love to dance? I have this over romanticization of Cuba, and picture the Island, specifically Old Havana, as a place of 50s Fords, Men dressed in all white, and women rolling cigars; all of this with son, salsa, reaggeton, and Cuban Hip Hop as the soundtrack. I will go back-ally to back-ally and dance in the most overcrowded halls and dance to it all, and this will be pure happiness.

Discover
Where: Senegal

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Why: Since 2005, I have seen Dakar, Senegal when my 18 hour plane rides stopped in this city to refuel as a mid way point between Johannesburg and New York City. After approximately 9hrs of flight,you are awoken by cabin crew, and I normally lift my blind and see this beautiful landscape of Dakar. Honestly, landing in Dakar as the sun is about to rise is absolutely gorgeous, and for that reason I want to discover what this place has to offer. I am sure I would be in for a food treat too as I discover new spices and flavors that are not part of my daily intake. Also Senegal is rich in history, and I would love to learn more about the place, and why not pick up on another language while I’m at it?

The Hunger Games

I probably should not write this post. It’s 2:13 am on Sunday, for reasons unknown to me, I have not eaten since 3pm on Friday, I’m alone in an apartment, and I have just completed The Hunger Games Trilogy, this means I am sad and feeling a little vulnerable. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I decided to pick up The Hunger Games but  I did, and what a journey it has been.

I read the first book in a day, unable to put the book down, ceased by the emotions emitted from every page. I longed for some sort of protection, cried when I realized it was not coming, and trembled at the thought of life in Panem. I felt hopeless reading Catching Fire as I became warped in the love triangle. Somehow relating to the polarity of Katniss’ dilemma. It took a little longer for me to get into Mockingjay, but I too was looking forward to the downfall of President Snow, and the cruelty of life in this dystopic world, wishing for a world were Katniss, Gale and Peeta, could coexist. But then it dawned on me, that that would be an unfair turn out. Most importantly, I remembered I was reading a piece of fiction, and I eased. A little.

Well the reason I am writing this post is not to give a review (as you could tell, it would be a poor one). Rather, I want to talk about how the literature gods and pandora gods seem to come together really well as I end books. In this case, they gave me two musical gems which I would suggest hollywood use as their score for Mockingjay the movie.

[SPOILER ALERT]

 

This song started playing just as Katniss kills Coin, and the lyrics became prominent as Peeta stops Katniss from taking the nightlock pill. While listening to the lyrics and reading the passage, I can imagine Katniss’ bewilderment, unable differentiate between what is right and wrong, ” Real, or Not Real”. It’s a stunning song though

 

 

This song a little more morbid, began to play as Katniss resolves to die a slow death. Again, imagery of a slow suffering, a withdrawal from the drugs, hunger pains, thirst, hopelessness are transplanted into my head. This songs is befittingly haunting, and I feel captures the cold, empty feeling Katniss is experiencing during this moment. Another beautiful song.
One thing I am learning about music is, pain sounds good (No Morbid)

 

Claytonia Bigsby

I may have been a racist, xenophobic and self loathing child.

You already know – if you have read my previous posts, that I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood from the ages of 3mo to 6yrs. Then, in 1994, I moved (back) to Maseru, Lesotho, an overwhelmingly predominant black community.

Weeks prior to my move, I heard horror stories about Africa, the older kids told me about being whipped for no reason; I believed that there was a teacher out there who shoved sticks from one ear and out the other, – this teacher would become my Sesotho teacher. These stories were especially scary for me because I had never been hit by my parents (still till this day). The last straw was watching Sarafina over and over again. Seeing kids beaten, shot and viciously attacked by dogs was too much for my 6 year old soon to move to Southern Africa self. I did NOT want to move to Lesotho.

Alas, I returned, and my first weeks back were pleasant. I met my family, and got along well with my English speaking cousins. I had some time before school began, so I enjoyed days at home protected by the high cement barrier and fenced gate that is so familiar in the Southern  African region. One life changing afternoon, I was confronted by my racist, xenophobic self loathing self.

While playing soccer with my brother and cousins, I accidentally kicked the ball over our gate. As the culprit, I had to go fetch the ball, a routine I performed often. As I unchained the gate and prepared to take my steps outside of my garden, I was confronted by all that I was afraid of about Lesotho. A man dressed in a traditional blanket, blaring traditional music out of his radio, and carrying a herder’s stick was quickly approaching. In a blink of an eye, I forgot what I was meant to do, dropped the chain,  and sprinted indoors,crying I hid under the dinning room table.

My mom and sister came out concerned,
“Lebo what’s wrong?”
Sobbing “There is a man”
“What man?”
“A mosotho man”
Puzzled looks from my mom and sister.

Note that I had white next door neighbors, and I never once flinched when I saw them walk down the street.

I was petrified of my own, somehow believing that I was different from him and that he could bring harm unto me, purely on the fact that he was a Mosotho man.

In some ways I was the female Clayton Bigsby, a character Touré writes about in his New York Times most notable book of 2011.

Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness: What it Means to be Black Now (2011)
Touré
Free Press

Through various parts of the book, I was able to substitute my own life into the text. I had  many head nodding, laughing at the similarities, and goosebumps moments. Although I am not American, I have felt similarly to the experiences Touré writes about. I don’t know if this is purely because of the time I have spent in the US, or because of the parallels to life in South Africa and Brazil? At times I mentally omitted the word “America”  to completely own the experience.  

I recalled my own doubts, or lack of self confidence in my abilities and interest, because of my race. I’ve been told I’m not “really” black in Lesotho, South Africa and the USA, and had a hard time dealing with it. I have become a semi-pro at code switching, not only within the English language, but inter-languages and culturally too. I reflected on the first time I was called a bloody Kaffir in Ladybrand at age 8 by a person I thought to be an acquaintance at worse. Touré’s words about Africans using the word Nigger pulled some strings, and I thought about how uncomfortable I am with the word, yet it rolls off my shoulder whenever someone pejoratively uses it in an attempt to hurt me (honestly, I smile and chuckle).

I was also inspired by his writing and overall message. As I try to shape my niché in the world and create my own teflon shield, Touré’s book reaffirmed that I get to live and define my life on my own terms. I know that there are more than 40 million ways to be black, I now have to be comfortable with it; because at the end of the day, no matter what I say or do, I will forever be black. So why not free my mind of limitations and work towards a better me?

 

The Breakfast Club: Moho Edition

Summer 2009, I met my very own Breakfast Club. Instead of 5 semi strangers, we were 8; instead of detention, we were working, and we were all female.

My Breakfast Club worked for the Mount Holyoke Admission office!

We were a mix match of people, all from different walks of life, and we all had our little quirks. Mine being my inability to make a box cake! Somehow these 8 different people came together not only in Mount Holyoke’s Admission office, but we became friends outside too.

We laughed, argued, and watched me cry at MJ’s funeral service together. We had dinners, potluck Mondays, and many a birthday celebrations. We shared our interests in books, music and the Office. We even became college celebrities of sorts, starring in a Why Mount Holyoke Video.

One of the the things I learnt about during that summer was Jazz.

Breakfast Cluber Nicky Nox Chambers is an avid Jazz enthuse. She listens to, reads and studies a whole lot of Jazz, I’m surprised she wasn’t a Jazz major! I learnt a bit from her, and I’m gratefully a jazz novice.

Prior to the summer with my Breakfast Club, I barely listened to Jazz, and could not differentiate between Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. As I expand my musical tastes, I like to not only listen to them, but read about them too.

So this past August, while at a quirky home book store in Portland, Oregon, I came across LeRoi Jones’ Blues People.

Blues People: The Negro Experience in White America and the Music that Developed From It (1963)
LeRoi Jones
William Marrow and Company

I clearly was not ready to read this book. As I said I am a Jazz (and Blues) novice at best. I should be reading the Paul and Jane versions of  Blues books; instead, I began with the Plato’s The Republic.

Nonetheless it was a fascinating read. Thanks to my Liberal Arts education I understood the framework of the book and really valued the explanations given. Even though I got bogged down by terminology and names of musicians, the book speaks about the transformation of the Black American psyche from slavery to then’s present day, and the story is told through Blues and Jazz.

LeRoi Jones isolated the musical transformation of Black America, but his discourse is applicable throughout the lives of Black America. I felt as if I could extend his argument until present day america, and none of the sentiments would be lost. A question that I would pose is, can we apply the same critic of White American’s adaptation and great success in a musical culture they don’t truly belong to or understand, to the ascendance of so called commercialized hip hop of today?

This is a book I will definitely have to reread to try and grapple with its nuances. Until then I will continue to develop my understanding of Jazz and the Blues by LISTENING to it!

Life On The Periphery

Sometime in the mid to late 80s Mama and Daddy Phoofs thought it would be a good idea to conceive child in China. 3 months after said child was born, the Phoofs migrated to the land of milk and honey just outside the city they called the Big Apple.  Child lived in a predominantly white neighborhood, and attended school were she learnt to play with a Dreidel, and ate Matzah. At the age of 6, Child’s world changed drastically.

The Phoofs moved back to the patria, and Child was thrust into a world of identity.

Imagine encountering a black Mosotho (excuse my redundancy) who was born in China, sounded like a Yankee, and spoke NO Sesotho??? Can’t Picture it??? … Let me help you:

To say I had a hard time explaining myself, is quiet the understatement. How do I justify that I am a “real” Mosotho when I’m in the Sesotho class for foreigners; and how can I claim to be Non-Mosotho when all my legal paperwork says otherwise?

You Don’t

Instead, you just live your life “On the periphery”

When I came to terms with living “On the periphery” I got a tattoo…. Frank McCourt wrote 3 books

Frank McCourt
Teacher Man (2005)

When my sister first gave me Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes I never thought one man’s life could be so comically depressing.  In a laugh at my pain kind of way. No he did not have THE hardest life, but it was sad nonetheless. Again I am drawn to a quote I read a while back, “Life is not a misery contest” a la Gertrude Stein, sad is sad is sad.

After finishing Angela’s Ashes I was left hopefully about the turn of Dear Franky’s life, then I read ‘Tis and misery returned.  Again, at the end of ‘Tis I thought this was it, Dear Franky would find happiness and grow in confidence.

Ahhwe (Sesotho accent)  Teacher Man!

I must admit things do get better for Dear Franky, but poor man is still lost in this place called life. Not quiet fitting in. Still lacks the charisma and confidence stolen by Malachy in Angela’s Ashes, and still has the Irish accent that plagued him in ‘Tis. Only difference, now he is confronted by people half his age, going through similar struggles, looking at him for answers… ouch.

The last installment of Dear Franky’s written life was touch and go. I didn’t know if he was going to make it, if he was going to overcome his painfully pitiful life. When I saw I only had 60 or so pages till the end, I thought there was no happy ending (I’m too Hollywood). Alas there was no big happy ever after, but just like Angela’s Ashes and ‘Tis with 2 words, I was left hopeful at the possibilities.

I will admit that this is my least favorite of his memoirs only because it’s not as introspective as the previous two. It took me a while to figure out I wasn’t really reading about Frank.  This memoir is more about his students and overall classroom experiences.Frank McCourt is a guest in his own book, facilitating the story through the stories of his students.  You get a glimpse into Frank’s life through their lives and how they maneuver through his class.

Frank still doesn’t seem to get this life thing right as a teacher. He doesn’t get his first job because the person who “hired” him dies the week before he starts; he gets fired by the same principle twice at two different schools; his third return to Ireland is as unceremonious as the previous two (plus he fails to get his PhD), and still no luck with women, except this time Maggie lives!

Frank McCourt’s life is the classic underdog story. For people who live on the periphery: you hoot, holler and scream for the underdog. Except, we only really like underdog’s when they win, and Frank barely makes the mark. He is the role model you don’t want to be like, glad he told his story so you can try your hardest to avoid his footsteps.

Ironically I write this as he’s received the Pulitzer Prize for his memoirs, and I remain on the periphery, finding worth commenting on his life on this blog post.  At the end of the day, We Try

País Da Minha Alma

They say “God is Brazilian” – and I believe it!

A view of Salvador - My home of 5 months in 2010! Saudades!

Brazil is one of, if  not my favorite, places in the world. It walks, talks, sings, dances, plays, and acts on a different heartbeat. It’s a country alive with passion, pride, and joy.

A country slightly larger than continental USA, it is a country full of contradiction. From semi arid regions neighboring the damp humid Amazon, breathtaking cascades of Rio de Janeiro, and flatter lands of Curitiba. From the metropolitan bustle of a Paulista, to the relaxed hustle of a Biana. A sea of Portuguese surrounded by a pool of Spanish.

And don’t be fooled by what you may believe to be Japanese people on vacation, they are as Brazilian as the perfectly round-bottomed, sun glistening brown women thrown at our TV screens. On a spectrum of Gisele Bündchen to Péle, you will find every shade in the so-called “Racial Democracy”

It’s not all amor, fútbol e alegria. There are extreme injustices in my favorite country. Ones they acknowledge: economic/class disparities, and ones they do not: racial and ethnic discrimination.

Brazil’s other Achilles’ heel… DRUGS.. (or rather, violence associated with drugs)

With that I bring to you

…THE NOVEL!

I am not here to plot the novel against the movie. I wont say one is better than the other, I love them both.

Although the movie is based on the book, I can clearly see that the movie’s directors and producers took a lot of liberties while making the movie. Like Shaggy’s brother isn’t really Benny, Benny isn’t so darn attractive, Rocket hardly appears in the novel, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, those are not their names!

“City of God” is my favorite movie. I’ve watched it COUNTLESS times, written many college papers on it, and I believe the movie’s opening scene is one of the most artistic and symbolic movie scene ever!!!! Yet I still squirm at the part when they cut the chicken’s throat.

The movie is brutal, but it’s child’s play compared to the book.

Yes the movie opens with the feast scene, but that is very different from the book opening with images of rivers turning red from dead bodies floating down stream.

The first time I watched the movie I could not stomach the scene where Lil Z forces Steak and Fries to shoot a kid his age (around 6-8), but I still get goosebumps thinking of the scene of the book where a man kills a newborn baby by slowly chopping its limbs.

The English translation of the book’s prose reads like poetry, I could only imagine how beautiful it is in Portuguese.

I remember one of my classes in São Paulo, the Professor asked what City of God was about, to which we unanimously replied “DRUGS!!!”  The Professor just shook his head.

Reading the book I realized the movie failed at telling the story of City of God, and it’s residence. There was a lot more character development, not only of the main characters we grew to love/hate in the movie, but of ordinary men and women in the favela.

The Professor said, more important than the drugs, it is a story of the evolution of a petty criminal. He asked how does a person go from pick pocketing to killing without mercy?

Looking back at my professor’s questions after reading the book, I do once again see where the movie failed in forcing us to ask the critical questions about the residence of City of God, and their relationship with the greater Rio de Janeiro.

The book does force you to look and think about racial and economic injustices, about the play of power in Brazilian society, are the police really working for the communities greater being. Why are the drug lords from the favela, a place of poverty. Yet who are the biggest consumers of the drugs? who occupies most of the jail cells? Questions that can go on for days, answers we haven’t really looked into. Questions we can ask in any society.

Overall a brilliant piece of fiction (??) that tugs at important questions about race and poverty in Brazil, and tells the story of many favelas across the country.

10 years later Paulo Lins story still rings true, and the solution is not as easy as the death of Lil Z/Tiny. There are deep structural changes that need to take place in the country, including (or maybe starting with) the people elected and appointed to serve and protect our communities. A great read, pick it up if you get the chance, and….

Ainda amo Brasil e Rio 🙂

Myself and Katchie Quente in Ipanema, RJ 2010

One Day It’ll All Make Sense – Common

One Day It’ll All Make Sense (2011)
Common with Adam Bradley
Atria Books

There was a point, while reading the book, where I smiled uncontrollably, put my hand on the page and all I though was “Oh Common.” That was during hour 6 of my non-stop reading of Common, or since I “know just about everything about ‘him’ know” Rashid’s memoir One Day It’ll All Make Sense.

When I found out Common had written his memoir I didn’t know what to expect. The more I heard about how “honest” his writing was, the more compelled I was to read it. I knew I would enjoy the book on some level, seeing that I have labeled Common Husband #3, however I didn’t know I was going to be so engulfed by it.

I began reading the book around 3pm on Thursday, and at first distracted by a the perils of twitter, I really got into the groove of things. Next thing I knew, it was 2 am and I had completed the memoir. I honestly do not remember the last time I read a book cover to cover in one sitting. Actually that’s a lie, I did get up to go to the bathroom, only because he was about to talk about his relationship with Erykha Badu, and when a letter includes:

truthfully, I felt I should have called, but you know I’ve kept a distance between us.
I keep this distance not because I don’t like you or even hate you…”

I knew I had to give this chapter my wholehearted attention, and when nature calls you don’t put it on hold. So after my bathroom break  I delved into Common and his relationship with Ms. Badu. I’ve always seen Common as a sensual man, but what I learnt from reading his book is, he is equally sexual. This man….SMH, he did not wait to introduce his sexual self..from Chapter 3 it was on. And as much as it’s not surprising, for a man who has always been mad low key, it was refreshing to read about this side of him (and in reading, being able to forgive him for Ghetto Dreams 😉 )

Although his romantic relationships were  highlights, the memoir illuminated his various relationships with people including Emmitt Till, Jay Dilla and Kanye West. He opens each chapter with a letter addressed to one of the many people who’ve influenced his life on varying levels. His writing is very poetic, and his mother’s pieces adds more flavor, and I think this is why I was so drawn into the memoir.

Like any well written memoir, I feel I got to know more about Common the rapper and Rashid the man. The memoir has not helped expunge the groupie out of me, instead I think Common is getting closer to becoming Husband #2 (unless he starts playing football/soccer, Thierry’s spot at #1 is safe)

I look forward to “The Dreamer/The Believer”, with this memoir I also forgive him for delivering the album so late..because last time I checked December is NOT the spring!